A research project has been launched to ensure that dolphins are not harmed by marine energy developments in Scottish waters.
The dolphins’ movement patterns will be monitored and methods of detecting their presence researched. These will be used to inform the timing of marine energy construction work to avoid any interference with the creatures.
The project is to be carried out on the west coast, where small groups of dolphins have been spotted near Machrihanish.
New research will help balance the development of marine energy schemes – such as the world’s first tidal power project, to be built in the Sound of Islay – with protecting dolphins on Scotland’s west coast.
Marine mammal scientist Nienke van Geel will carry out a study at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) at Dunstaffnage, near Oban, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
Ms van Geel, who graduated with BSc biology and MSc natural resources management degrees in Holland, has worked for the International Fund for Animal Welfare on beaked whale acoustics and habitats in the Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands, and, for the last two years was the marine biodiversity officer with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, conducting cetacean monitoring surveys throughout the west coast of Scotland.
Dr Ben Wilson, senior lecturer in marine ecology and renewable energy at SAMS, said: “This project offers an exciting opportunity to discover more about the ecology of a mysterious Scottish dolphin population and help us balance their needs alongside the construction of an urgently needed industry.”
The project is one of two PhD studentships at UHI being funded partly by the commercial law firm Harper Macleod. The company’s head of energy and natural resources, David Bone, said: “The natural landscape and climate of Scotland has given us a fantastic opportunity to generate income for the nation and support local employment.
“However, we must be careful not to squander this gift, and use it to its best potential to ensure prosperity for future generations whilst protecting our environment.”
James Fraser, the UHI principal and vice-chancellor, added: “We look forward to the findings which will be very important for the protection of our sea life and natural environment, human health, and the growing renewable industry.”
A resident population of bottlenose dolphins on the east coast in the Moray Firth is well known, but it is now believed that there is also a resident Hebridean population.
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